The Dissecting Room . . . September 1997
Sherlock for Morons
If you've been in a bookstore at all these days, I'm sure you've noticed the wave of ". . . for Dummies" books and their competition, "The Complete Idiot's
Now, as anyone who has spent any time in traffic can tell you... there seem to be plenty of mentally challenged folk out mere. And we all have our areas of admitted ignorance as well, so the market for these books is terrific. And they do dispense needed information to the woefully clueless masses.
But as me publishers run out of “how to" subjects, they're expanding to things like A Complete Idiot's Guide to Elvis (a straight line if ever I heard one). It's only a matter of time before someone gets to Sherlock. In an effort to head them off (and not infringeon the "Dummies" or "Idiots" franchises), I'd like to propose my outline for Sherlock Holmes for Utter Morons.
Now I know there are those among you who will ask the burning question:
"Do we need utter morons in Sherlockiana?" And mere are also those who will retort, "We've got you, Keefauver, why invite more?"
But somewhere out there, a poor, misguided soul has just seen the Dudley Moore movie adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. He knows in his heart that something is very wrong, but as this is his first contact with Sherlock Holmes, he knows nothing else. He yearns for the deeper truths that he knows must lurk behind a Watson who is getting whizzed on by chihuahuas and a Holmes whose mother is a psychic friend.
Well, maybe he doesn't, but you have to feel sorry for the guy anyway. He's probably heard the local Sherlockian society is a real hoot and doesn't want to show up at his first meeting and look like a complete doofus. (Maybe the book should be entitled Sherlock Holmes for Real Doofuses, just in case "Utter Morons" is too humiliating).
So what are we going to do for this guy?
Well, a few years ago, the Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn published their own Sherlocldan primer, and that might be a good a place to start stealing ideas. Other than material on their own scion, the Harpooners explain "the Game," the life of Doyle, key terms like "Canon" and "pastiche," the Baker Street Irregulars, the Adventuresses, and Vincent Starrctt.
While they make a good effort, how- ever, I don't feel the Harpooners are really targeting dummies. The left-right combination of the Game and Doyle coming hard and fast might confuse a true idiot. And while the Baker Street Irregulars are explained in three and a half pages, Sherloek Holmes himself is only explained in a single paragraph. If we want to help stupid people become Sherlockians, we're going to have to spend the bulk of our time explaining Sheriock Holmes to them.
The Sherloek Holmes Handbook by Christopher Redmond does a good job of spending time on Holmes ... much better than the two Michael Hardwick books that preceded it (The Sherlock Holmes Companion and The Complete Guide to Sherloek Holmes). But again, it's not written for the mentally deficient. Expanding Redmond's book into a five-volume set, punching up individual facts with bullets, icons, and arrows pointing to the most important points, accompanied by the words: "Here's something you'll need to know before you go to a scion meeting!" would come much closer to the mark.
The problem with our target audience is that, in addition to providing them "need to know" facts, we are probably going to have to explain to them just how extremely cool Sherloek Holmes is, and why, right off the bat just to keep their attention. And how do you sum up the appeal of Sherloek Holmes quickly and easily, in a very short phrase?
"He's a real smart guy."
This could make our task all the harder. Dummies buy these books because they make them feel they aren't alone in their ignorance. If the bookstore has a pile of books called Fishing for Dummies, well, mere must be a whole bunch of people out there who know as little about fishing as the buyer of the book. But when they pick up Sherlock Holmes for Utter Morons, what do they find inside? The tale of someone obviously smarter than them.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Elvis didn't have this problem, as most people know Elvis was no Brainiac, just a good ol' country boy. Maybe we could start with "Sherlock Holmes caught crooks" and ease them into the thought that he did it with his mental turbines. We could start off talking about how Sherlock would stuff a roast beef sandwich in his pocket before going out to hunt criminals, and slowly work our way up to observation and deduction. It could work ....
But on second thought, maybe we should just work on The Utter Moron's Guide to Hercule Poirot and let the Christie fans deal with these guys.
Works for me.
(Printed in Plugs & Dottles, September 1997)